The future of prosthetics? A synthetic hand that feels

Will our future synthetic limbs be more realistic than we could have imagined?
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Scientists claim they have designed a synthetic hand that provides the wearer with a synthetic touch.

The creation of prosthetics has come a long way in the last decade. Dextrous hands, lighter legs, and even cheap 3D-printed parts suitable for children have all been manufactured and refined. Functionality is useful, but realism is another matter entirely -- or you would think so. According to researchers at the Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University, it is possible to also restore a sense of touch to a missing limb.

As you can see in the video below, the synthetic hand developed by the team has 20 sensitive spots held in three cuffs on the hand that can sense and detect physical objects. Implants in the peripheral nerves of the wearers become stimulated through electrical impulses when the hand detects an object. The two users of the hand report that the interface still works after 18 months, which the scientists say is "a noteworthy milestone given that electrical interfaces to nerve tissue can gradually degrade in performance."

By creating a sensory connection between synthetic limb and wearer, an improvement in functionality could be realized -- such as by allowing a hand to detect the grip necessary to pick up an object without crushing it. However, the concept could go further and allow the wearer to psychologically regain a little more of the limb they have lost.

Igor Spetic, a 48-year-old who lost his hand in an accident three years ago, is shown below being able to pick cherries without applying so much pressure they split. The sensor relays have only been tried in the lab, but Spetic approves of the experiments so far.

"It's real exciting to see what they are doing, and I hope it can help other people. I know that science takes a long time. If I don't get something to take home, but the next person does, it’s all to the better."

Lee Miller, a professor of neuroscience at Northwestern University who was not involved in the research said the advances appear to be "remarkable," commenting:

"This is the greatest number of distinct touch sensations generated by peripheral nerve stimulation that I know of, and the 18-month-long stability is also unsurpassed."

Via: MIT Technology Review

Image credit: Flickr 

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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